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thing at all; because as spirits are allowed in our present discourse to assume any shape, so it is not doubted but they may take up the shape of the dead as well as of the living, and may assume the very clothes, countenances, and even voices of dead persons; and it must be so, or else we must fall into all the absurdities of souls remaining in a wandering, unappointed, unsettled state after life ; which, if it should be granted, we must in many things contradict the Scripture, and the received opinions of all the reformed churches, and almost of all good men even in all ages.
Of the many strange inconveniences and ill conse
quences which would attend us in this world, if the souls of men and women, unembodied and departed, were at liberty to visit the earth, from whence they had been dismissed, and to concern themselves about human affairs, either such as had been their own, or that were belonging to other people.
I BELIEVE there are few speculative delusions more universally received than this, That those things we call spectres, ghosts, and apparitions, are really the departed souls of those persons whom they are said to represent.
We see, or pretend to see, our very friends and relations actually clothed with their old bodies, though we know those bodies to be embowelled, separated, and rotting in the grave; as certainly as the head and quarters of a man executed for treason are drying in the sun upon the gates of the city : we see them dressed
clothes which we have cut to pieces and given away, some to one body, some to another, or applied to this or that use; so that we can give an account of every rag of them : we hear them speaking with the same voice and sound, though the organ which formed their former speech we are sure is perished and gone.
These similitudes of things fix it upon our thoughts, that it must be the same; that the souls of our late friends are actually come to revisit us ;
which is to me, I confess, the most incongruous and unlikeliest thing in the world.
First, They must have a very mean opinion of the future state, and the exalted condition of the blessed, that can imagine they are to be interrupted in their joy; and even disquieted, as Samuel said to Saul, by the importunities of this world's affairs : Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? as if it was in the power of a despicable witch to bring him up, for it intimates a force, whether he would or not ; which does not at all correspond with the high thoughts we are directed to entertain of the perfect felicity of that state, of which eye has not seen, or ear heard, or heart conceived.
Secondly, They must have likewise very mean thoughts of the state of everlasting misery, who can think that the spirits in prison can get loose from those determined chains, to come hither and attend upon the trifles of life; nor do I know whether it would be worth their shifting hell, and coming back to this world in the wandering condition those things called ghosts are understood to be; or indeed to reassume a body, without making life a state of further probation. For what would life be here for a few years subjected to human infirmity, want, distress, and casualty, and no alteration possible of their future state, no hope, no room for changing the sentence ? They know little of that hell called despair, that can think it more supportable in this world, than the eternal state, which it is a prospect of, is in that to
But this is too grave abundance for the times, and therefore I say no more of that part; but I must bring the case nearer to our present taste, as well as to our capacity.
Let us next inquire into the necessity of disturbing or disquieting our departed friends, with or about the concerns of their families: if their
coming is by the permission of Providence, then I demand what occasion is there for it: and of what service is it? seeing the same Providence is able to employ other servants of the same errand, and to do the same business, and who will not only do it as well, but to be sure much better. It is answered, the sovereignty of Providence is not to be disputed. He may do what he pleases, and employ whom he pleases: but then the wisdom of Providence too is not known to act inconsistent with itself; and, which is a sufficient answer to all the rest, we are allowed to judge of all these things by our reasoning powers, nor have we any other rules to judge by; and it can be no crime to reason with calmness, and with due respect to superior power, upon the ordinary administration even of Heaven itself.
I will suppose that no apparitions were allowed to show themselves on earth, but on occasions of some unusual consequence, and that then they might always be expected; and there are many affirm it to be so, though I openly say I do not ; but suppose it, I say; and that whenever these things have appeared, it was in especial cases, such as of manifestly injured right, oppression of widows and orphans, wrong done to persons unable to do themselves justice, depressed poverty, and many such cases which souls are said to be anxious about, even after death; I say, if it were so, the world is at this time (and, perhaps, has always been so full of violence, injustice, fraud and oppression, that the souls of our departed friends would hardly ever be at
How many weeping widows, starving orphans and oppressed families have in our age suffered by the loss of the money which their fathers and other ancestors left for their subsistence and establishment in a certain city chamber, or put into a certain ex
chequer upon the public faith! According to this notion, neither the visible nor invisible world would have been at peace: the habited visible world would have been continually haunted with ghosts, and we should never have been quiet for the disturbance of spirits and apparitions: the invisible world would have been in a continued hurry and uneasiness ; spirits and unembodied souls asking leave to go back again to see their wills rightly performed, and to harass their executors for injuring their orphans; and all the ages of time would have been taken
up in giving satisfaction to them in such and such cases.
It was the saying of a Roman, (indeed, I mean, a Roman in religion,) that it was a sign to him, past all dispute, that the dead could never come to the quick, because the testators of all those charities - given by departed souls of saints for the maintenance of hospitals, chantries, college churches, and religious houses, as well in money as in lands and inheritances, did not walk, and haunt king Henry VIII., and pull him not out of his throne only, but out of his grave, for taking away as he did, all those rents and revenues, lands and estates, from the religious houses to which they belonged.
Now if they were not disquieted for so great a piece of injustice, why should they be forcibly disturbed for trifles, compared to those great events ?
Again, should departed souls get leave to come back to this world, to see justice done to their families and relations, how comes it to pass that they have not done it on such frequent occasions as are daily given them in the world? And why do any people enjoy peaceably the estates which they got wrongfully? The works of heaven are all perfect. Would he have sent angels or spirits to procure justice to be done only in part, and not in the